What's Not Okay to Ask A Dancer to Do?
To create great work, choreographers need the freedom to tackle difficult subjects and push physical limits. But when your instruments are human beings, is there a limit to how far you should go? Five choreographers open up about where they draw the line.
ioulex, Courtesy Streb
"I ask dancers to be 100 percent trained in every fiber of their bodies so they can come in here ready to crash and fly. I think any dancer who says, 'No, I don't want to do that' isn't curious enough to be in the STREB company. They can say, 'I'm not ready to try that today.' And they can say, 'Let's not do that again.' When a dancer gets injured, I wish on that day I had stopped it. But we agree to get hurt."
Raja Feather Kelly
Hope Davis, Courtesy Kelly
"If my dancers can debate me into understanding their position and win the argument, then I'm happy to concede. There was a situation where a cast member told me something wasn't important to the show, and I thought it was. We had an argument. I think I wanted her to make out with another dancer. I don't want to allude to kissing if I think the scene should end with a kiss. But she didn't think that it was justified for the purpose of the scene, and she felt that it exploited her. In the end, I believed her. It wasn't moving the story forward, so we didn't do it."
"When I was younger, I didn't fully understand how far my dancers would have to go emotionally to do the intense, outrageous stuff I wanted. Sometimes you're just directing and you're in your own dreamlike place. I'd say, "Oh, come on, you can do this," or "Haha, that thing you did was really funny," and it really wasn't. Now, I have more compassion.
"A lot of my material is based in their individual experiences, so I just let my dancers go as far out as they're gonna go. But I do put the kibosh on some things. For example, one dancer wanted to tape herself into a plastic bag. I thought, That's a little dangerous. She tried it, but it made me feel so panicked I couldn't really watch it. I couldn't put that onstage."
Cheryl Mann Productions, Courtesy Agami
"You just need an honest conversation. When it's risky—I recently wanted to deal with the physicality of meth addicts, for instance—I make sure I start the discussion by asking, by wondering, not demanding anything from anyone. We have a dialogue and I give the person the freedom to say what he thinks because I need to have a collaborator with me. If I feel a dancer is uncomfortable, I retreat. It doesn't prevent us from dealing with struggle and effort and challenge and embarrassment and fears, but I don't want to humiliate anyone, including the audience."
Bill Zemanek, Courtesy LINES
"If someone feels uncomfortable, they're not going to be able to serve the work, so it's pointless. When LINES worked with the Shaolin monks, I wanted some pas de deux and initially they said it was their rule that they did not touch women. So I left them alone. But when they realized that the movement was not sexualized, these were just ideas that we're working out through physical form, then everything began to change, and they saw it as okay.
"Now, if you're talking about technical demands, you have to push dancers! [Laughs.] Because as a director, you also want to feed them technically and artistically. You will not allow them to say "I can't," because those demands represent the next step in their development."
Social media has made the dance world a lot smaller, giving users instant access to artists and companies around the world. For aspiring pros, platforms like Instagram can offer a tantalizing glimpse into the life of a working performer. But there's a fine line between taking advantage of what social media can offer and relying too heavily on it.
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
On August 19, 1929, shockwaves were felt throughout the dance world as news spread that impresario Sergei Diaghilev had died. The founder of the Ballets Russes rewrote the course of ballet history as the company toured Europe and the U.S., championing collaborations with modernist composers, artists and designers such as Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel. The company launched the careers of its five principal choreographers: Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine.